National Security Brief: August 9, 2011

— Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr yesterday called on U.S. troops to leave Iraq or risk more attacks. “So, go forth from our holy land and go back to your families who are waiting for you impatiently,” Sadr said.

— Investigators examining the death of 38 U.S. and Afghan troops after their helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade are focusing on whether it was necessary to dispatch the Chinook helicopter on the risky mission.

— As Syria’s neighbors are beginning to turn “decisively” against President Bashar al-Assad, the head of the most influential school of Sunni Islam added his voice to the criticism. A statement from Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Cairo-based al-Azhar, said his group owed it to the Syrian people to “clearly announce matters have gone beyond the limit.”

— Syrian forces continued their assault on civilians today even as Turkey’s foreign minister pressed Assad to halt the attacks. Meanwhile, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus.

— Even as Washington looks to cut defense spending, drone combat aircraft sales will double over the next decade and worldwide research and development and procurement expenditures on drones will rise from $5.9 billion to $15.1 billion according to a new report.

— Rebel leaders in Libya dissolved their own cabinet yesterday “in an effort to placate the family of an assassinated rebel military leader and quiet discord” within the movement. The prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, the only member of the cabinet who kept his job, will present a new slate of cabinet members Transitional National Council for approval.

— Twenty percent of the House of Representatives — 55 Republicans and 26 Democrats — will travel to Israel over the three week summer recess on trips sponsored by The American Israel Education Foundation, a group connected to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

— The U.S. is prepared to announce a $100 million famine relief aid package for Somalia but U.N. officials warn that over 11 million people across East Africa need food aid and the numbers of Somalis fleeing famine-hit areas is likely to rise to levels, which could overwhelm international aid efforts.